Snookerbacker

December 29, 2017

If it Ain’t Broken….

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:13 pm

There is one list which features a number of Chinese players at the top of it.

With the yuletide festivities out of the way it will soon be time again to turn our attention to the second half of a packed season on the baize. Barely a weekend will pass between now and the big one in Sheffield where there won’t be snooker of some description taking place somewhere on the planet.

The man widely held responsible for this wall to wall potting is of course, Barry Hearn, who is never short of a word or ten when it comes to promoting the sports he owns. Just a few weeks ago, he could be heard heralding snooker as ‘the envy of other sports’ in relation to the penalties being dished out to miscreants. Whether they are found to be in breach of betting rules or more rarely, if they have been caught red-handed fixing the outcome of a match or frame, you can be sure that Bazza’s bloodhounds will do their work.

Two common factors in all the cases that have been investigated by the snouts at the Integrity Unit are of course, betting and bookmakers. Invariably, where there is a suspected fix on, someone, somewhere is usually making quite a bit of money out of it. When this type of thing is detected, the bookies get straight on the Batphone to Integrity Chief Nigel Mawer and the wheels of justice start spinning into action, at varying degrees of speed, with resultant punishments following.

It is however, exceptionally rare that this happens, well, at least the punishment bit. The most recent cases where this has resulted in lengthy bans have involved Leo Fernandez, who couldn’t have been more careless in his delivery of a deliberate foul stroke to order and of course, Stephen Lee, who had a file as thick as an extra large double thick sliced loaf once they’d dug out all his various misdemeanours; handing him a career ending ban to have with his doorstep toast.

But is snooker as ruthlessly efficient in rooting out the crooks as Barry would have us believe? Well, my answer to that is no. There is still an open secret in the rank and file of the game that knows it still goes on and it is almost always in a match involving a player from either Thailand or China. It’s clear that this recurring phenomenon is also known to the governing body, why else would they confiscate mobile phones from players hailing from those regions when they arrive at venues as they have started doing recently?

I’m sure the three matches below from the last few months are not isolated incidents and they add to a growing annual list of encounters that have gone exactly to plan before them. It’s not for me to speculate who is behind these fixes, but my guess is that the players are simply obeying orders. Generally, we’d never get to know about them as the betting is limited to the backstreets and bars of the countries involved, but now and again some of this knowledge finds its way into mainstream online betting websites used in other parts of the world, usually two particular firms. Then when these moves are spotted, word spreads in the gambling community and that’s how the likes of me get to find out that the outcome of a match is preordained before a ball is struck.

Let me explain.

Exhibit A – European Masters, 4th August. Micheal Georgiou 4-1 Yu De Lu

In the above chart, the odds on Yu De Lu to win the match are on the right hand side and the eventual winner Georgiou’s are on the left. Put simply, when the odds were first compiled, the Chinese player was a fairly strong favourite to win the match. However, such was the demand for the opposite to happen that just a few hours later Georgiou was being backed at ridiculously short odds to win at Pinnacle and Marathonbet, the two firms who routinely seem to take the hit when this sort of thing goes on. Georgiou rode out a very cosy winner racing to a largely unchallenged three frame lead and landing the gamble.

Exhibit B – Indian Open, 12th September. Matt Selt 4-0 Cao Yupeng

A less significant shift in odds than the previous example but still a marked one. Selt (left hand column) started favourite for the match with recent Scottish Open runner-up Cao marginally odds against. However, as momentum built, Cao’s odds lengthened at Marathonbet and by the time it all began he had drifted a point in the match market, which is pretty rare in snooker, where bookmakers tend to take a line and stick to it. Selt completed the 4-0 victory in rather pedestrian style with just one break over 50, a 55 to be exact. Cao scored just 76 points in the match. The gamble landed again.

Exhibit C – German Masters, 21st December. Mark Joyce 5-2 Lu Haotian

This is a good one. This was what one might define as a ‘quick fix’. Pinnacle this time taking a last minute hit on a Joyce win. In the 36 minutes prior to the start of the match the money started coming in for the Walsall man and the point drift in the odds on the Chinese player kicked in in the time it takes for Fergal O’Brien to eye up a long blue. Perhaps this is the new trend eagle-eyed punters will be looking out for in 2018. The last minute quick fix again delivered the desired result, from 2-2 at the interval, it was one way traffic on their return, perhaps after Lu got his phone back.

So, are these just coincidences? Well, that of course could be argued, but they stand out from the hundreds of other matches that have been played this season already. The money being gambled at online firms is probably from odds watchers on the other side of the world from the bars in China where the whole sting is being stage managed.

It seems clear from various responses from Barry on social media that he is aware of this, he talks of ‘ongoing investigations’ but we are yet to see or hear any evidence of these or any action that is being taken, other than the confiscation of phones, which may be a case of ‘after the horse has bolted’, ‘too little too late’ etc.

Spare a thought here for Stephen Lee, however you might feel about him and what he did, he was suspended immediately following a defeat to John Higgins in the Premier League in 2012 ‘on suspicion of match fixing’ and was never allowed back on the tour from that day forward. Why aren’t we seeing similar ‘pending investigations’ in matches where the outcome has already been shared around the snooker Twitter community with eerie accuracy? Particularly where there is evidence of price drifts as above, prior to the matches in question.

The arguments as to why this happens will be repeated again but the plain fact is that unless it is tackled it will continue as it has done now for years.

To single out De Lu, Yupeng and Haotian would be unfair without also singling out Zhang Anda, Tian Pengfei, Liang Wenbo and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh all of whom have been involved in matches with similar betting patterns to the ones above in the past. That’s even before we mention those who have disappeared from the tour over the years and have gone back to the amateur game in Thailand, where I’m sure there are rich pickings to be made.

So what, if anything, can be done? I’d not go down the obvious road of again questioning snooker’s relationship with gambling, the two have always been close as it could be argued are all sports to a greater or lesser degree. Instead, I’d perhaps argue that this is an inevitable consequence of the globalisation of the sport. Unfortunately, it’s not on everyone’s cultural compass to play fair, it’s also not on your average Chinese or Thai backstreet illegal bookie’s moral compass to not issue some pretty nasty threats should they not get their way.

In the meantime, punters over here will continue to bet on matches in good faith, unaware that in some cases, the result is pre-determined many many miles away. Or you could of course just become an ‘odds watcher’ and follow the money…..

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